December 22, 2015

    Avoiding Those Awkward Conversations

    Has this happened to you? An acquaintance or relative asks, "What is it you do, again?" You say that you work in the microwave industry, and the person lights up in recognition, saying "Oh, you work with microwave ovens?"

    Not even close.

    Brent Dietz of Qorvo has had a similar experience explaining the RF semiconductor industry over the years. He offers these suggestions for making that exchange a much more enjoyable conversation.

    The holidays are here. RF-powered LED lights decorate the neighborhoods, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) launches their annual (perhaps GaN-based) Santa Tracker and we in the semiconductor industry face the grim task of explaining what on Earth we do for a living to our families.

    I’ve worked in the semiconductor industry since the early ‘80s, and I remember very clearly the first time I tried to explain my company over dinner. My uncle never did quite get it. “Now…you guys make microfiche?” he’d say. And we’d move on to another topic.

    We’ve all been in this position before. One mention of “RF,” and you’ve lost people. So, like our GaN For Dummies® book, we’ve created a guide to make explaining what we do to those we love a little easier. Here are the top three do's and don’ts for explaining RF over the holidays:

    • DON’T describe RF as a thing. You may make wireless components that connect the world’s most advanced technologies, but one mention of transmit-receive modules, and your family and friends will be wishing they had more wine.
    • DO describe RF as a process. I like to say, “I’m in the delivery business.” In this industry, companies make chips and other components that deliver video, text messages, phone calls, pictures, emails, weather and pretty much any other type of data you can think of. Describing RF as the process of delivering content to devices is much more likely to draw a follow up question than sounding off about impedance tuners.
    • DON’T mention specific technologies. Say the word “wafers,” and everyone’s mind will go straight to sea-salt, cracked pepper and festive cheese logs. A 200 mm gallium arsenide wafer sounds like a toxic flavor anyway.
    • DO mention specific industries. Companies in this industry build some pretty cool stuff, but the impressive part is whom they build it for. At Qorvo, we build technologies for the mobile industry and for industries like wireless infrastructure that make mobile connectivity possible. We build stuff for aerospace and defense, including every major fighter jet. The baby boomers will love talking about the F-22 or F-35. Focus on where products are used, and you’re likely to keep everyone more engaged.
    • DO reference Netflix, HD and high speed. No matter what industry you work in, you likely spend a lot of your time using streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. These services are nearly universal, relatable and the networks that deliver them incorporate DOCSIS 3.1 and GaN solutions nicely — not that you should say that. If you need an elevator pitch, here it is: “Our company does the technology legwork so you can stream Netflix.”

    But for heaven’s sake, DON’T reference Frozen. RF components may power smart TVs, universal remotes and Blu-ray players, but unless your intention is to start a four-hour singalong, steer clear.

    Enjoy the holidays.

    This article first appeared in Brent's Musings on Microwave Journal.


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    Brent Dietz

    About the Author

    Brent Dietz
    Director of Corporate Communications

    Brent has seen a lot of engineering and technology during 30+ years in the tech industry. His primary role is making geek-speak understandable to the non-geek public, reporters and nontechnical analysts. It's challenging — simplifying without distorting — and it helps to have a sense of humor. Brent does, which he shares with readers from time to time.